Finger Millet

Description

Finger millet, Eleusine coracana, is an annual grass in the family Poaceae which is grown for its grain which can be used for food or for brewing. Finger millet is a robust tillering grass which grows in tufts. It has erect, light green stems. The leaves of the plant are dark green, linear and mainly smooth with some hair along the leaf edges. The inflorescence of the plant is a cluster of 3–26 ‘fingers’ composed of dense spikelets where the grain, or seed, is produced. Finger millet can reach 1.7 m (5.6 ft) in height and is an annual plant, harvested after one growing season. Finger millet may also be referred to as African fingermillet, goosegrass or millet and originates from the highlands of Eastern Africa.


Uses

Finger millet grains are commonly cooked and made into a porridge to accompany other foods.Grain may also be used in the brewing of alcoholic beverages. Millet straw can be used as an animal feed.


Propagation


Basic requirements
Finger millet requires warm temperatures to develop optimally and as such is mainly grown in the tropics. The optimum temperature for the growth of the plants is between 18°C (64.4°C F) and 27°C (80.6°F) and the plants require an average of 750 mm of rainfall over the course of the growing season. Finger millet can be grown in a wide range of soils but a fertile, well-draining sandy loam with a pH between 6.5 and 5.8 is optimal. Finger millet will not tolerate drought and will not grow well in areas with heavy rainfall.

Planting
If being grown as a rain-fed crop, finger millet is directly seeded in the field by broadcasting. Seeds should be sown to a depth of 2.5 cm (1.0 in) allowing 25 cm (10 in) between rows and 10–12 cm (4–5 in) between plants. The soil is commonly ridged to promote drainage in wet soils. When adequate irrigation is not available, the seeds are grown in nurseries to create transplant which are transferred to the field later. Finger millet is commonly intercropped with sorghum, maize or legumes such as pigeon pea or cowpea.

General care and maintenance
The seedbed should be kept free from weeds as the plants develop to prevent competition for light and nutrients. The plants should be provided with additional irrigation during dry periods. Finger millet benefits from the addition of chemical fertilizers. In Africa, farmers fertilize using ash, while in India it is common for farmers to spread cow or sheep manure on the crop.

Harvesting
Finger millet is usually ready to harvest between 3.5 and 5 months after sowing depending on the variety. The crop is usually harvested by hand by cutting the seed heads or by cutting the entire plant.


References

CABI Crop Protection Compendium. (2008). Eleusine coracana datasheet. Available at: http://www.cabi.org/cpc/datasheet/20674. [Accessed 03 December 14]. Paid subscription required.


Common Pests and Diseases

Blast
Pyricularia grisea

Symptoms
Elliptical or diamond shaped lesions on leaves; centers of lesions are grey and water-soaked; lesions surrounded by chlorotic halo; appearance of concentric rings on leaves
Cause
Fungus
Comments
Occurs in all areas of Africa and Asia where millet is grown
Management
Plant resistant varieties where available; treat seeds with appropriate fungicide; sprays of appropriate fungicides may also be required to control the disease in the field; good sanitary practices are essential to limit the spread of the disease

Cercospora leaf spot
Cercospora penniseti

Symptoms
Small dark lesions on leaves which are usually oval in shape but may be oblong to rectangular; centers of lesions are gray to tan in color with visible black dots; lesions may be covered in spores during wet weather; lesions may also be present on the stems and are slightly longer than those on the leaves
Cause
Fungus
Comments
Disease emergence occurs when high temperatures coincide with periods of high humidity
Management
Avoid planting millet varieties that are highly susceptible to Cercospora fungi; control weeds in field; rotate crops and practice good sanitation; no chemical control is needed to treat the disease

Seedling and leaf blight
Helminthosporium nodulosum

Symptoms
Death of seedlings before they breach soil surface; light brown, oval lesions on seedlings; large dark brown patches on seedlings; withering of plants; well defined lesions on junction between leaf blade and sheath; tissue necrosis; death of plant above lesions; dropping of leaf tips, spikelets, fingers or entire head
Cause
Fungus
Comments
Disease occurs in India, Japan and Africa; fungus attacks other millet species; disease spread through infected seed

Downy mildew
Sclerospora graminicola

Symptoms
Chlorosis of leaves beginning at base of the infected leaf beginning lower down on the plant and progressing upwards; downy white to gray fungal growth on undersides of leaves; brown, necrotic leaves; distinct margin between diseased leaf tissue at base of leaf and healthy tissue towards tip
Cause
Fungus
Comments
Disease is of great economic importance in India and several countries in Africa
Management
Rogue infected plants when found in the field; treat seeds with an appropriate systemic fungicide prior to planting and continue to spray the crop at least once every 25 days after sowing

Rust
Puccinia substriata

Symptoms
Small yellow or white raised spots on upper and lower leaf surfaces; spots tend to be more numerous on lower leaf surface; spots enlarge and develop into red-brown pustules which may be surrounded by a yellow halo
Cause
Fungus
Comments
Spores can be spread via wind and survive in crop debris in the soil
Management
Plant resistant varieties of millet if rust is a persistent problem; avoid the use of overhead irrigation; do now plant millet in close proximity to eggplant or other Solanaceous crops; there are no recommended chemical controls for rust